Christians have many. We Jews have a few. Muslims and Buddhists do, too, and the Hindus and Wiccans may soon get theirs. But despite the fact that 3,000 chaplains minister to the needs of active-duty service people in the military, none serve atheists.
That may soon change. “Groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military,” The New York Times reports.
Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, told the Times humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths.
“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Torpy said. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”
The Times didn’t get reactions from Jewish clergy, but celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach lashed out in a Huffington Post essay that the idea’s “kind of absurd…. Do I think it’s a good idea for the military to have atheist counselor soldiers? Sure. Let’s have trained professionals who profess atheism who are made available to non-believing service men and women who are reluctant to discuss personal issues with religious chaplains. But please, call them something that doesn’t make a mockery of religion by pretending that someone can be a minister of the religion of non-belief.”